Born in Dublin in 1854. He became a disciple of Walter Pater, the theorist of aestheticism. He became a fashionable dandy.
The aesthetic movement. It was born in France and its main French exponent was Thèophile Gautier. It was a reaction against middle class materialism and code of respectability. Its motto was “Art for Art’s sake”. The artists embodied their protest and their beliefs with their own life (bohémiens).It was imported in England, where it was revived by the influence of in Keats’ theory of art (Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is Truth and Truth is Beauty/That is all ye know on Earth/And all ye need to know”). In England its theorist was Walter Pater. Pater published Marius the Epicurean, a novel, in 1885, and this work spread his message. According to Pater, there’s no God and no afterlife, so the only means to stop time is art; besides the artist has to live it “as a work of art”. As a consequence, art has nothing to do with morality
Pater contributed to develop the “decadent taste” expressed in England by the artists who contributed in the ‘90 to the periodical The Yellow Book (among them Oscar Wilde). They had in common an egotistical and hedonistic attitude, indifference/contempt towards society and a taste for amoral/perverse subject matter. From a European point of view the Aesthetic movement is an expression of Decadentism.
France: publication of the journal La Décadent,with the contribution of the Symbolist poets Rimbaud, Verlain and Mallarmé, influenced by Charles Baudelaire’s Le fleurs du mal; publication of the novel A Rebours by Des Esseintes (1884), whose protagonist was a model for Wilde’s dandy
Italy: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Il piacere (1889), the poets Pascoli and Gozzano
Germany: the poetry by Rilke
• Refers to men who consider themselves to be arbiters of culture and refinement and wit.
Poetry: Poems, 1891
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, 1898
Fairy tales: The Happy Prince and other Tales, 1888
The House of Pomegranates, 1891
Novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Plays: Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892
A Woman of no Importance, 1893
The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895
Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde adopted the aesthetical ideal; he affirmed “my life is like a work of art.”
His aestheticism clashed with the didacticism of Victorian novels.
The artist = the creator of beautiful things.
He was a dandy, an elegant aristocrat who took pleasure in shocking with his wit and extravagance
He believed the artist was superior to common people and needed absolute freedom
He believed only “Art as the cult of Beauty” could prevent the murder of the soul
From the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
1890 first appeared in a magazine.
1891 revised and extended.
It reflects Oscar Wilde’s personality.
It was considered immoral by the Victorian public.
Dorian is a young man, whose beauty fascinates the painter Basil Hallward, who paints a portrait of him
When Dorian sees the portrait he wishes the portrait will get old instead of him
Influenced by Lord Henry Wotton, a dandy, Dorian leads a life more and more devoted only to pleasure, disregarding the other people’s feelings
He is responsible of the suicide of Sybil Vane, a young actress he first pretends to love, then abandons
After Sybil’s suicide he realizes his wish has been granted, as the signs of age and corruption appear on the face of the portrait and not on him
He hides the portrait in the attic of his house
His life becomes more and more dissolute, until he kills Basil, because Basil has forced him to show him the portrait
He blackmails a friend to get rid of Basil’s body, then escapes James Vanes’ (Sybil’s brother) revenge because he looks too young to be her former lover
James Vane anyway follows Dorian in the country, where he’s staying with friends, and he’s found mysteriously dead, killed during a shooting party
Dorian decides to start afresh and begin a new life, and to destroy the portrait, so he stabs it
Dorian Gray: a round character, he develops in the negative. Young and basically weak he is more and more influenced by Sir Henry Wotton and becomes a dandy, but also a criminal
Sir Henry Wotton: a flat character, he embodies the dandy, who likes to shock people with his wit and extravagance, but anyway sticks to basic social rules
Basil Hallward a positive flat character, loves his art but strongly believes in basic moral values.
Narrator and narrative techniques.
Narrator 3rd person unobtrusive.
Dialogues: show the characters’ personalities.
Descriptions: illustrate the details of Dorian’s increasing cult of beauty.
Narration: unfolds the events without comments on the part of the narrator.
Setting and time
London at the end of the 19th century. The novel is mainly set in Dorian’s house (the home of an aesthete), and high class mansions. Slums appear when Dorian is in search of forbidden pleasures, like opium or prostitutes. A temptation is placed before Dorian: a potential ageless beauty. Lord Henry’s cynical attitude is in keeping with the devil’s role in Dr Faust.
Lord Henry acts as the “Devil’s advocate”. The picture stands for the dark side of Dorian’s personality.
Every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped. When Dorian destroys the picture, he cannot avoid the punishment for all his sins death. The horrible, corrupting picture could be seen as a symbol of the immorality and bad conscience of the Victorian middle class. The picture, restored to its original beauty, illustrates Wilde’s theories of art: art survives people, art is eternal.